Verbal Feedback

Resources, ideas and prompts for discussion related to Feedback.

What is it and how does it work?

The quickest, most effective form of feedback? Ask any teacher of student and they will probably tell you it is Verbal Feedback. Indeed at MACS, through pupil voice and discussions around teaching and learning, learners themselves identify the verbal feedback received in lessons as being the most helpful, immediate and specific. That is not to say that forms of written feedback are not and cannot be good, but there is a real value, efficiency and positive impact to a well crafted piece of feedback that is given in the moment. An effective teacher will be constantly providing short cues, suggestions and verbal prompts on performance before, during and after tasks – and likely far mare in quantity and quality than anything they will have written down.

The issues for Verbal Feedback links back to what was mentioned in the introduction to Feedback in that there is a misconception amongst schools (and maybe some of those that lead and advise them!) that feedback and marking is the same thing. There is a tendency to lean toward a preference for written comments. With some promoting the idea of extensive dialogic feedback; where the teacher writes a comment, the student acts and writes a comment back, the teacher then reads this and answers again, all in written format on the student work. Allison and Tharby presents the analogy that this is like writing letters and sending them by Royal Mail (both in process and pace), when you could just pick up the phone.

It is argued, and discussed in ‘Making Every Lesson Count’, that Verbal Feedback is a more human process than written marking and tends to promote student understanding much better. When students receive a written comment in isolation (i.e. not as part of a conversation or transaction with the teacher) and in particular this can apply to shorter written comments, there is a great deal of room for misunderstanding the written comment, misinterpreting its purpose or intention, and worst of all missing the learning point. So what is the solution to this? Provide longer written comments? That may solve some of the issues mentioned here but to remind of what was proposed as ‘good’ feedback:

Basic criteria to check whether feedback offered and received is ‘better feedback’ is whether it informs a learner about where to go next, and also whether it informs the teacher of what or how to plan next, is it manageable in terms of impact and time taken, and is it appropriate for the subject or topic

If we just keep writing more and more, it becomes unmanageable and it still may not effectively or efficiently inform a learner of what to do next. The debate to be had is what is the feedback for? To advance learning or to provide evidence that you have given feedback?

What the verbal feedback actually looks and sounds like when you speak to learners in a class, as you monitor and walk around your classrooms, runs through so many ideas on the pages on this website. It is about the prompts you give, the re-directions, the questions you might ask to try to provide the steer. The same things you could write down of course, but why not say them in the moment?

Associated further reading and references:

  • ‘Chapter 5: Feedback’, in Allison, S. and Tharby, A., 2017. Making Every Lesson Count. Carmarthen: Crown House.

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